Hike Nine was to the Pincushion Mountain cross country ski area near Grand Marias. Its name comes from the skinny trees, grasses and lichens that poke out of the bare rock at the mountaintop just like on a pincushion. I decided to hang around town a bit before hiking to have one of those famous donuts. Magically, my car went straight to the donut shop.
I got three for the road. Nothing else was open so off I went up the Gunflint Trail. By the time I arrived in the parking lot, I had eaten only one donut. As I started hiking, I noticed many trail markings and maps, so it looked like I could easily find my way to Pincushion Mountain. Or so I thought.
The art of getting lost
I have a real talent for getting lost. As Barry always said, “If Nancy says go left, you should go right!” I think the problem is that I typically just start walking with only a vague plan in my mind of where to go. Usually, I don’t have a map. You see, I’m an eternal optimist, always assuming I will find my way — and I usually do. To be honest however, there has been many a time when out of town on a speaking engagement that I have had to hitchhike back to the hotel after an early morning run because I was so turned around!
On the other hand, getting lost can sometimes bring you to amazing places and notice things you might never have seen. I recently read an interview with my favorite teacher at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Kinji Akagawa, in which he talks about the value in being lost: “Giving us the opportunity to get lost is, I think, part of the museum’s job. You have to get lost. When you’re lost, you really pay attention to look again. The sense of being lost physically is to reexamine one’s own position, and no longer just assume a relationship to one’s surroundings or the architecture. That’s a very important part of life.”
This morning on the Pincushion Mountain ski trail, I was deep in thought and concerned about heading back home soon. There was a book to write; Barry to figure out, etc.
Lost and worth it
The trail was easy, the morning beautiful, and I kept on walking — scarcely paying attention to trail markings. Eventually, I realized that I had passed the same wooden shelter about three times. Where was the lookout at the mountaintop?
Signs (that I just started to pay attention to) pointed to one loop and then another loop for skiers. None of it made sense – to me. After a very long time and by sheer luck, I found the overlook on top of Pincushion Mountain, a nearly bare rock some 300 feet across. It was worth the extra time spent and worth getting lost. The panoramic vista was dramatic from Grand Marias harbor to Lake Superior sparkling in the distance.
A gentleman in hiking gear, with a compass on his belt and a map in hand, arrived at the lookout just as I was leaving. I wanted to grab him and say take me with you; please don’t leave me!!! But I didn’t ask for help — and once again spent a couple of hours lost, trying to find my way back to the parking lot. Eventually, I found my way via the Gunflint Trail, where one spur led me to a road. I could always hitchhike if need be.
Local residents have since told me that I’m not the only one to become lost on the Pincushion Mountain trail. Apparently, it is legendary for turning people around. I got to my car, ate a another donut and headed to one more trail. There was still time in the day to get lost again.